After a day of travel and a quick layover in South Korea (Pusan airport was the easiest and friendliest transfer I have ever had), we arrived in Siem Reap, Cambodia at around 10pm, several days after the official Chinese New Year celebration. The air was balmy as we waited in the open air customs terminal. Per our request, the hotel had sent a tuk tuk to pick us up and after identifying our driver we loaded our bags and ourselves into the seat and rumbled to the hotel.
The next day, our first full day, we got started late – a little after 10am and with the help of the hotel, determined that we would try for the major sites on day 1 and would travel by tuk tuk for the day. Renting a tuk tuk was only about $15 US dollars and seemed like the best option to get our bearings and understand what was going on. Our driver asked if we already had tickets and when he found out it was our first day, dropped us off at the main ticket office where we had to wait in line to buy our passes (a three day pass) and get our photo taken. Then, after another 10 minutes or so, we were there – in front of one of the great wonders of the world – Angkor Wat.
Even from a distance, it was enormous. Because it was approaching lunch time, the tourist crowd wasn’t that thick and so we made our way across the long bridge to the main building, noticing the king cobras carved on the railings and the pitted walkway. Halfway down the walk guides started approaching us to give us the “inside scoop” and eventually we settled on one to tell us the story and guide us through the building. Getting the guide was a good move – he kept us moving through the main rooms, showed us the major sites and areas and started to share some of the history and culture of the Khmer Kingdom that created the great marvel.
As we walked through the temple we saw the now empty pools where the king would purify himself and the steep, steep steps that indicated the difficult passage up to heaven. We saw the intricate carvings of thousands of Ankara dancers and the empty pedestals where hundreds of statues of Buddha would have rested during the time period when the temple was converted from Hinduism to Buddhism. After pointing out the major sites our guide left us and then we climbed up our first set of steep wooden steps to the tops of the five tours that make the classic postcard of Angkor Wat.
After doing the circuit we rested in the vanishing shade and watched tourists coming by. To our amusement we even saw a dog ambling down the historic cobblestones and then a holy man making his way to see this wonder of the world. Our eyes not accustomed to so much sun and dripping with sweat in the early afternoon heat, we made our way slowly out of the temple and over to the lunch stands on the side. Two bowls of instant noodles with chicken and vegetables later, we headed back to the entrance to meet our driver and continue the afternoon’s adventure at Bayon and Baphuon Temples.
What else would we see that day? Would we be able to find and communicate with our driver? Keep tuned for more of our trip to Cambodia….